Harvard School District Fires Psychologist who Complained about Special Ed Program to U.S. Department of Education

In December, the United States Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office (OCR) notified Dr. Peter Koehn that his complaints about the treatment of Special Education children met the criteria for an investigation.

Monday night the Harvard School Board dismissed whistle blower Koehn from his position as School Psychologist.

The clinical psychologist, who has hung his shingle out in Crystal Lake at Neal Psychological Specialties (815-477-4727), now intends to help parents of students with disabilities obtain the education that their children deserve.

Koehn complained that Harvard’s school system was discriminating against students in grade, junior high and high school when it changed IEP’s (Individual Education Programs) in the Fall of 2010, which led to a significant change in placement without following appropriate evaluation and placement procedures.

Department of Education Team Leader/Supervisory Attorney Aleeza Strubel stresses in her letter of December 3rd that the opening of an investigation “in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to its merit.”

In a separate letter acknowledging a second Koehn complaint to the same office, Stubel informed him an investigation would be made of his complaint about being subjected “to retaliation after you objected to changes that the junior high school Principal made to students’ Individual Education Program (IEPs) during the summer of 2010. After you raised these objections, the Principal required to participate in a pre-disciplinary meeting on October 20, 2010, with the Superintendent.”


Harvard School District Fires Psychologist who Complained about Special Ed Program to U.S. Department of Education — 15 Comments

  1. Anyone think the Superintendent recommended the dismissal to the board?

    This shows why basic reforms don’t happen in schools and how people who stand up for what’s right get punished.

    So what did the union do to protect this employee? Was it wink, wink, in cahoots with the Supt.?

  2. Good teachers and staff in Special Ed learn pretty quickly to keep their heads down, because they need their jobs and don’t want to suffer the consequences after exposing problems or criticizing supervisors and superiors.

    Good teachers and staff quit (or get fired), when they speak out about abuses or improper actions in a Special Education Department. Entrenched, tenured supervisors survive, when they should be the ones getting the boot.

    Familiarize yourself with Erin Gruwell. How long would she have lasted in many of the McHenry County school districts? Less than a year.

  3. Gus hit it on the head. But it is not only special education teachers that are subjected to retaliation when it comes to standing up and speaking out, this mind set is rampant across the system.

    Those who stay, who are dedicated to their students and have not co-opted to the system learn to do a very delicate dance in order to maintain their integrity as well as their job.

    We may not be able to fix the system from this blog, but we certainty can make a phone call,send an email, ask questions,express our opinions and let these board members know how you feel.

    They are, according to the District 50 web site, which provides both email addresses as well as phone numbers:

    Ken Book: 815-943-3161/ kbook@owl.net

    Richard Stoxen: 815-943-6879 /stoxfarm@mc.net

    Roger Wilhort: 815-943-7691 /MSTRICK@mc.net

    Sharon McMillian:815-943-4653 /roger.wilhoit@ffic.com

    Rebecca Klien: 815-299-5272 /rklein@stans.net

    Diane Bird: 815-943-3690 bird-ddp@webtv.net

    I was taught…when it is wrong and you do nothing, you are part of the wrong!

  4. I feel bad for the psychologist but it is the special education kids and their parents who should be getting justice. If you know any Harvard parents with special education students, you should contact them and have them request information from district about the federal investigations.

  5. Currently, Harvard School District 50 is under audit by the Illinois State Board of Education concerning their policies and procedures concerning Special Education students within the District with an IEP. This information is freely available through the Illinois State Board of Education under the Freedom of Information Act.

    I have fought this battle concerning IEP’s within the District, and the truth is, I don’t see things changing. This is not just an administration problem, but a problem that has spread throughout the District, including some faculty and staff who don’t know how to write, follow, or just plain ignore the legally binding document that an IEP is, and the legalities of the procedures behind it.

    I don’t forsee things changing in Harvard anytime soon with the administration and the board that is in place. Truthfully, what do a board of elected members know about Special Education law and procedures? They rely on the Administration and the District lawyers to handle that kind of thing. I have become knowledgeable enough in the area of Special Education to know that District 50 is pulling the wool over a lot of parents eyes when in comes to IEP’s and Special Education. I wish this would get more press than it is getting.

    But what is a parent to do? Sue the District? Takes money. File a complaint with the State? They are already under audit for their policies and procedures. The answer lies in banging your head against the wall each and every time you have to deal with the District concerning IEP’s. It feels better than actually dealing with the IEP.

    Are the children in Harvard with IEP’s having their civil rights violated? Could be if they are not getting the “Free and Appropriate Education” they are entitled under law. That means that their IEP is written to be the most “Appropriate” for them, including placement in special education programs that are suitable for them and necessary accommodations within “regular” and “special education” classrooms. But even if those are written into the IEP, the District is bound by law to follow that IEP, and there is where a lot of the problem lies.

    Did Koehn go about this the right way? Not sure. There obviously was more going on than just the “wistle blowing.” Maybe he didn’t follow proper procedure within the District before contacting OCR. I’m not saying either way as I don’t know the whole situation. But I do know that there is definately an issue concerning Special Education students in District 50.

    Harvard Special Education parents…seek the knowledge you need to know to properly deal with this problem. This is a systemic problem that is not likely to go away anytime soon.

    As Mary said above, speak out against the problem. At least you can do that. But that doesn’t necessarily bring change. I’m not trying to be the pessimist, but just the parent who has the battle scars of the fight.

  6. The problems with special education are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Intimidation and harassment of students, staff, teachers and parents seems to be the way things are accomplished in Harvard School District #50.

    Wonder who is footing the bill for all the legal problems coming out of this schools inept procedures? ..It is you Harvard.

    Check the Board Briefs from December of 2009, when the board voted in a whopping increase of over $190,000.00 for tort expense alone. Keep in mind that this was beyond the
    legally set tax cap!!!

    In the words of Shakespeare – “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

    In the event that the board notice is not available to you concerned citizens…I am posting a partial copy of it here. Ask yourselves…why would the district need so much money for legal defense?

    Minutes of Regular Meeting
    The Board of Education
    Harvard CUSD 50
    A Regular meeting of the Board of Education of Harvard CUSD 50 was held December 16, 2009, beginning at 7:00 PM in the District Office, 1101 N. Jefferson St., Harvard, IL 60033.
    Call to Order
    Roll Call
    Present: Richard Stoxen, Mark Stricker, Rebecca Klein, Roger Wilhoit, Sharon McMillan, Diana Bird
    Absent : Ken Book
    Also Present: Dr. Lauri Tobias, Superintendent and Dr. Richard Crosby, Director of Facilities Management
    Enter Closed Session
    Go into closed session to discuss the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employees of the District or legal counsel for the District, including hearing testimony on a complaint lodged against an employee or against legal counsel for the District to determine its validity; Collective negotiating matters between the District and its employees or their representatives, or deliberations concerning salary schedules for one or more classes of employees; litigation, when an action against, affecting or on behalf of the particular District has been filed and is pending before a court or administrative tribunal, or when the District finds an action is probable or imminent, in which case the basis for the finding shall be recorded and entered into the closed session minutes.
    Return from Closed Session
    New Harvard Primary School Name
    Superintendent’s Recommendation: Motion to “Approve the name of the new primary school as presented” Roll call
    Motion: Wilhoit
    Second: Klein
    Aye: Wilhoit, Klein, Stricker, McMillan, Bird, Stoxen
    Nay: none
    Absent: Book
    Roll call: 6 – Aye, 0 – Nay, 1- Absent
    Motion carried.
    New Harvard Primary School Principal
    Superintendent’s Recommendation: Motion to “Approve the principal for the new primary school for the 2010 – 2011 school year as presented.” Roll call
    Motion : Klein
    Second: Bird
    Aye: Klein, Bird, Wilhoit, Stricker, McMillan, Stoxen
    Nay: none
    Absent: Book
    Roll call: 6 – Aye, 0 – Nay, 1 – Absent
    Motion carried.
    Short Break to Celebrate!
    Pledge of Allegiance
    Recognition of Visitors
    This is the time which we invite the public to address the school board with issues and concerns. In the interest of time, we ask you to limit your comments to 3 minutes. We will not tolerate personal attacks or inappropriate language. If you are interested in making a comment, please stand and state your name and address. Thank you
    Limitation of Administrative Cost Waiver Hearing
    Open Hearing
    Motion to “Open the hearing on the waiver of the school code regarding limitation of administrative cost.” All in Favor
    Motion: Wilhoit
    Second: Stricker
    Motion carried
    Questions and Answer Period
    Close Hearing
    Motion to “Close the hearing on the waiver of the school code regarding limitation of administrative cost.” All in Favor
    Motion: Stricker
    Second: Klein
    Motion carried

    Approve Limitation of Administrative Cost Waiver
    Superintendent’s Recommendation: Motion to “Approve the application for the initial waiver/modification of The School Code that would allow District 50 to increase the administrative expenditures over the prior school year by more than 5%.” Roll call
    Motion: Klein
    Second: Wilhoit
    Aye: Klein, Wilhoit, Stricker, McMillan, Bird, Stoxen
    Nay: none
    Absent: Book
    Roll call: 6 – Aye, 0 – Nay, 1- Absent
    Motion carried
    Hearing on the 2009 Levy
    Open Hearing
    Motion to “Open the hearing on the 2009 levy.” All in Favor
    Motion: McMillan
    Second: Bird
    Motion carried
    Question and Answer Period
    Close Hearing
    Motion to “Close the hearing on the 2009 levy.” All in Favor
    Motion: Stricker
    Second: Klein
    Motion carried
    Adopt Certificate of Tax Levy for 2009
    As of this writing, the Board Office has not been contacted by any citizen with questions regarding the Truth in Taxation Notice published in the newspaper. This does not prevent someone from showing up at the meeting to address the Board with questions and/or concerns. In the past, the Board has heard concerns from citizens regarding the “continual increase of property taxes to support schools.” The tax cap (Property Tax Extension Limitations Act) was implemented in McHenry County in 1991.
    Resolution 1
    Superintendent’s Recommendation: Motion to “Waive the reading of and approve the resolution providing for tax levies for the year 2009 in the amounts of $10,800,000 for educational purposes, $2,100,000 for operations and maintenance purposes and $625,600 for transportation purposes.” Roll call
    Motion: Wilhoit
    Second: Klein
    Aye: Wilhoit, Klein, Stricker, McMillan, Bird, Stoxen
    Nay: none
    Absent: Book
    Roll call: 6 – Aye, 0 – Nay, 1- Absent
    Motion carried
    Resolution 2
    Superintendent’s Recommendation: Motion to “Waive the reading of and approve the resolution providing for tax levies for the year 2009 in the amounts of $180,000 for municipal retirement purposes and $325,000 for social security purposes.”Roll call
    Motion: Klein
    Second: Stricker
    Aye: Klein, Stricker, Bird, Wilhoit, McMillan, Stoxen
    Nay: none
    Absent: Book
    Roll call: 6 – Aye, 0 – Nay, 1 – Absent
    Resolution 3
    Superintendent’s Recommendation: Motion to “Waive the reading of and approve the resolution providing for a tax levy for the year 2009 in the amount of $10,000 for working cash fund purposes.” Roll call
    Motion: Stricker
    Second: Bird
    Aye: Stricker, Bird, Klein, Wilhoit, McMillan, Stoxen
    Nay: none
    Absent: Book
    Roll call: 6 – Aye, 0 – Nay, 1 – Absent
    Motion carried

    Resolution 4
    Superintendent’s Recommendation: Motion to “Waive the reading of and approve the resolution for a tax levy for the year of 2009 in the amount of $195,000 for tort immunity purposes.” Roll call
    Motion: McMillan
    Second: Klein
    Aye: McMillan, Klein, Wilhoit, Stricker, Bird, Stoxen
    Nay: none
    Absent: Book
    Roll call: 6 – Aye, 0 – Nay, 1 – Absent
    Motion carried

  7. I can’t identify myself but I know that Dr. Koehn began questioning the placement changes to administrators soon after school began. This is WHY he was retaliated against. The OCR complaints/investigations were only after he had tried everything to get the administration and board to put kids back where they should have been. Then the retaliation seemed to ramp up.

  8. If the allegations that Dr Koehn make are true, there is something more seriously wrong here.

    It’s called an act of Offical Misconduct, along with any other Federal charges.

    The Supt. of Schools, Jr High Principal, and any other administrator involved should be terminated.

    I too, have a child with IEP in the district.

    It would seem if this is true, it may have tied into the fact that the district is on the Watch List for SE, and needed to be 100% compliant by November 2010.

    There needs to be a full investigation, and any student(s) that have had their rights violated, the parents should bring suit(s) against the District.

  9. Also thanks to Cal for bringing this to forefront.

    If this occurred during Monday’s meeting, why hasn’t the NWHerald gotten it?

    It is Harvard and doesn’t make Harvard look good, so it should be front page news.

    It is a shame that in order to get “news” it has to come from the bloggers.

    Nicely done Cal. (That is a compliment by the way)

  10. …just a few additional comments from my post above. First, parents of Special Education students in Harvard, ask yourself this question. How many Superintendents in the county, or even the state, are also the Director of Special Education within their District? Doesn’t this seem to be a bit troublesome considering all of the issues that have been brought up on this blog and others that haven’t?

    Also, thank you to Marykate for bringing to light the increase in the budget for tort immunity. This is troublesome because that is what would be used to pay the attorney’s given negligence on the part of the District in matters such as those mentioned above.

    Lastly, in reference to the audit by ISBE, the report that was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act specifically states under the section titled “Areas Needing Further Action” that:

    “The district currently uses three special education staff as “liason’s” in each attendance center. These liason’s are used as special education supervisors in each building; their responsibilities include attendance at all IEP meetings, administrative meetings and other special education duties as needed. While a substitute teacher is provided for the staff member with a classroom, the related service personnel are not required to have substitutes provided and students are without their required services as stated on their IEP. The classroom teachers’ students are also not provided the continuity needed by a special education teacher who is out of the classroom at least fifty percent of all attendance days. The district is encouraged to restructure the administration of duties among the attendance centers through the workload plan so that no student is without services as specified on their IEP.”

    The District is still using liaisons for these tasks. Do these liason’s have Special Education Administration certification or are they just filling a role? Is this the proper role they should be playing? Are these liason’s not providing services to their students when performing their liason related tasks? This is obviously a concern for ISBE and should be a concern for all of us.

    I could write a thesis on this topic it seems, but as Forest Gump says, “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

  11. I felt it important for all to note that so few individuals (especially the teacher who stated they could not identify themselves), feel comfortable complaining and seeking redress for the wrongs being committed by the administrators in Harvard School District.

    Morale must be at an all time low for teachers and staff so fearful of maintaining their jobs.

    Any complaint, in any academic area, can add an employee to a ‘Hit List’; making them a target for investigation, reprimand and eventual removal.

    Please understand Harvard parents….that a fearful, and anxious teacher does not make for a fully creative and problem solving teacher.

    Educational excellence is hindered by harassing tactics.

    As a former Special Education Teacher at Harvard Junior High School, I found myself walking the same path as Mr. Koehn.

    Only my termination was not called termination.

    Superintendent Tobias reported to the school board that I had resigned over a “Phone Message.”

    In spite of an e-mail to the board and administrators attempting to straighten Dr. Tobias’s misinterpretation…(interpretation is her word in letter to me,) the board still accepted my supposed resignation.

    There are many, many others, good teachers forced out…

    Studies have shown that student learning excels when teachers feel respected, confident and part of the educational process. So many veteran teachers are being pushed aside, their ideas and expertise being ignored.

    One wonders if age elimination has become “best practice” in the district.

    So while Special Education has come under government scrutiny… It is essential that all parents of students within the district realize that every student is at risk and the quality of education for all is suffering.

  12. And in keeping with Mary Dougherty’s last comment I would like to add a quote from Terry Goodkind – “Those who choose not to fight injustice are participants in it.”

  13. This isn’t about the rights of special education students anymore. This is about our rights as citizens. This is America and somewhere along the line we forgot that its our duty and right to question authority.

    This situation illustrates how dated District 50 is.

    We need forward thinkers. We need people that realize this community, this county, this country, and this earth we live on, needs drastic change.

    It’s time to stand up for our kids, our community, and our future.

    We can’t let issues like these die, we must uproot the problems. We can change things but we must stick together and not give up.

  14. Trying to submit to this blog is becoming an exercise in patience!!! using the captcha code…my comments have been eraced three times… Here I go again!

    It is Feb. 9th and everyone seems to have forgotten the plight of Dr. Peter Koehn and his fight to get Harvard School District #50 to comply with Legal regulations in providing services to special education students dictated on their IEP’s.

    It is in that spirit…”Lest we remember and learn from history, we are condemned to repeat it; (obviously a paraphrase), that I bring up the issue again.

    “Who Can Override an IEP?

    by Wrightslaw

    The IEP team, including the parents, agreed that a student would receive homebased instruction for part of the day for instruction in academic subjects. He would attend vocational courses at the school the rest of the day. The school division superintendent decided to override the IEP team placement. Can he do that?

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act states that all decisions about a child’s special education program and placement are made by the IEP team. Period.

    The law does not provide for another individual, including a supervisor or superintendent, to overrule decisions made by the IEP team. Despite this, it is not unusual for a principal or superintendent to try to overrule decisions made by the IEP team.

    What are the superintendent’s objections? Why did he “override” the IEP team? If you know the basis of his objection (fear or concern), you may be able to reassure him.

    Meeting the Child’s Needs

    The IEP should be based on the student’s unique needs. If the IEP team decides that the IEP you describe meets this child’s unique needs, the child can receive homebound instruction for academics, and attend vocational courses for part of the day.

    It sounds like the placement decision by the IEP team was an effort to re-engage the student to return to school to complete his education and receive his IEP diploma.
     Are there specific, measurable goals included in the IEP?
     Is there a plan for the student to return school at a later date?

    If the superintendent is successful in overturning the team’s plan, I doubt this boy will ever receive a diploma. Perhaps this is why the law does not allow decisions to be made for “administrative convenience.””

    I want to provide Harvard teachers, staff, parents and students with some of the best blogs on the net to gain insight into the laws governing special education, and access to asserting your rights as both students and parents.

    If you parents do not get involved, the dedicated teachers and support staff who have tried to follow those laws may very well go by the wayside, so to speak. We need everyone’s support so that the “child” comes first…not the fiscal bottom line…

    Law and Policy

    31. Autism Policy and Politics: This blogger is writing a book on autism policy and politics in the U.S., and his blog contains relevant information to the project.

    32. Day in Washington: This nationally syndicated disability policy blog is updated weekly.

    33. Developments in Special Education Law: H. Jeffrey Marcus, P.C., presents current developments in special education law in federal and New York State cases.

    34. Patricia E Bauer News & Commentary on Disability Issues: This blog attempts to aggregate news and commentary about disability, and to document the efforts of people who are seeking new ways to address familiar challenges.

    35. Special Education Law Blog: A special education legal resource discussing case law, news, practical advocacy advice, and developments in state and federal laws.

    36. Special Education Law Blog: Jim Gerl is a consultant for a number of state education agencies, and he is a frequent speaker on special ed law topics.

    37. The Wrightslaw Way: Wrightslaw provides information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities for parents, educators, advocates and attorneys.

    Education News and Reform

    1. The Jose Vilson: One of the most impassioned educators on the internet, Jose Vilson is a middle school teacher who also blogs about the myriad issues compromising student success.

    2. An Urban Teacher’s Education: Special education teachers hoping to bring their services to inner-city schools may want to keep track of the various challenges that could very well await them.

    3. Whitney Tilson’s School Reform Blog: Stop by this frequently updated resource for some interesting perspectives on how American schools need to change if they hope to offer kids the best education possible.

    4. Flypaper: Presented by The Fordham Institute, the Flypaper blog delves into education reform and other ideas centered around improving the public school system.

    5. Class Struggle: Jay Mathews with The Washington Post talks about the state of American education today, and what schools are doing and need to do to in the interest of improvement.

    Mental Health News and Views

    11. Dr. Deb: Special education teachers who work with depressed and traumatized children can get some perspectives on the condition courtesy of Dr. Deborah Serani.

    14. Mental Health Update: John Gale follows the latest psychology and psychiatry news, then translates them in a manner that general readers fully comprehend.

    15. Child Abuse Survivor: Because so many special education students unfortunately fall victim to child abuse, it would behoove their teachers to understand the psychological effects as thoroughly as possible. This incredibly brave blogger opens up about his experience with the hope of fostering societal awareness.


    21. Dyslexia My Life — Blog on Dyslexia: Girard Sagmiller wrote a book about his lifelong battle with dyslexia, supplementing the material with a blog that shares the latest research and opinions on the condition.

    22. ADD/ADHD Blog: About.com’s Keath Low blogs about the struggles faced by ADD/ADHD children and adults at school, work and home.

    Special Needs Parents

    31. Adventures in Extreme Parenthood: This stay-at-home mom and banshee keeps readers informed about her life raising two children on the extreme end of the autism spectrum, infusing considerable humor with the pathos and stress.

    32. Dyslexia Blog: By parents, for parents, this blog provides great information for teachers wanting to make sure their students receive proper education and support at home.

    33. 5 Minutes for Special Needs: An essential bookmark for all special needs parents and teachers, this blog and community addresses pretty much everything they need to know about their kids.

    Special Needs Teachers and Legal Professionals

    41. Jerry’s Special Education Blog: About.com’s Jerry Webster draws from nearly two decades of special education experience to bring fellow teachers the latest news and views that impact their careers.

    42. Special Education Law Blog: While not by educators, this blog still keeps those working in the field with the information they need to stay in compliance with the law and know their students’ rights.

    43. The Wrightslaw Way: Another valuable resource for special education teachers who need to keep up with the legal issues inherent to their careers.

    44. Teacher Sol: Maria Angala issues a call for education reform with special attention paid to the special education students and teachers who oftentimes end up shoved to the margins.

    45. Teacher at Risk: Considered one of the very best resources available to special education professionals, Elona Hartjes’ Teacher at Risk covers everything both novices and seasoned veterans need to know about the field.

    46. Reality 101: Multiple special education teachers weigh in on the latest relevant news and opinions from around the country.

    It is my intention to research out helpful websites and blogs for fellow educators, staff, parents and students in the hope that educational change will occur. I have not have had time to review all of the sites I have listed with the exception of Wrightslaw. Please feel free to comment on what you found and whether or not it was helpful.

    God Bless and Good Hunting…


  15. Perhaps the Harvard School Disrict does have some explaining to do regarding Special Education policies, this will be determined following the investigation.

    But, don’t be so quick to glorify Dr. Koehn….I seriously question whether or not he did “the right thing, for the right reasons” The Dr. Koehn I know would be more accurately described as the type of Whistleblower described here. “Whistleblowers are commonly seen as as “tattle tales” or “snitches,” solely pursuing personal glory and fame” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistleblower}

    I do know Dr. Koehn and certainly would never use the words conscientious, ethical or morally righteous in the same sentence with his name.

    I would be willing to bet that the Harvard School District did not take the consideration of his dismissal lightly as he was a tenured employee…perhaps there is more to this story. In addition, Dr. Koehn is certainly no stranger to the courts. Opinions based on fact are so much more reliable than those based on emotion.

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